Light Peak is dead.. Long live Thunderbolt

Intel has finally realized a commercial package for it’s light peak initiative, in the form of Thunderbolt.  Apple were the first to bring this to bear in the new MacBook Pro lineup announced last week, however Intel have been quick to claim that this will not be an Apple exclusive technology and will be available to other partners and OEMS.

Despite the name, and initial plans, Thunderbolt is currently based on an electrical medium, not an optical one, which shuns away from the initial concept of an optical interconnect for high demand peripherals and buses, but Intel have committed to continuing work on an optical option in the future, stating that results from testing on the electrical side were far better than expected, and keep both costs and complexity down for this initial offering.

Change of plans?
Light Peak was destined to be a transport medium, not a protocol itself, it wasn’t set to replace USB or FireWire, but the physical mediums used to connect these devices.  The consensus initially was that USB may well be the protocol of choice, but Intel have opted for a combination of Display port and PCI Express thus far.

This diagram from Intel shows a simplified version of how the technology works


As you can see, the Thunderbolt controllers at both ends (say, a monitor and a MacBook Pro) combine the signals from the two sources to cross a single cable, this allows the single mini display port on a MacBook Pro to provide the video signal to the monitor, as well as other peripheral connectivity.  Like USB, the ability to daisy chain these connections is built in, for example, allowing a monitor to have Thunderbolt ports for other connections back to the MacBook Pro

Utilizing PCIe in this manner provides some interesting possibilities, by extending the bus to remote devices there is potential to connect numerous other controllers directly to the PCIe bus on the remote device, and connect seamlessly to the host system via the single Thunderbolt cable.  For instance, rather than just finding USB ports on a monitor, a manufacturer could build an entire controller into the monitor for USB, FireWire, eSATA and have those controllers connect to the PCIe bus of the host system via Thunderbolt.  This opens up some interesting possibilities in deployment options for vendors, as well as streamlining the way we connect peripherals to the host system (I for one have very few spare ports on the back of my systems at present, a way to streamline more effectively than multiple USB hubs is always appreciated!

The downside to this is obviously the extension of the PCIe bus outside of the host system, which has already caused some parties to claim security concerns, although this is no different than with existing bus extension technologies that operate at such low hardware layers, such as Express Card and FireWire.

Lots of bits, not a lot of cable
The most staggering achievement of the new technology is the bandwidth it brings to consumer devices, each Thunderbolt port provides two full duplex, bi-directional 10Gbps channels totaling 40Gbps, although only adds display port 1.1a support on top of this, rather than the newer 1.2 standard, even so, this amounts to a combined total of almost 60Gbps of bandwidth, from that single port!

The potential for this technology is quite astounding, and with bandwidth like that there are a myriad of new ways of approaching connectivity that could be imagined, however the standard at present is an Intel only offering, requiring the purchase of controllers from Intel, this itself could hinder the protocols adoption by third parties, especially ones loyal to competitors such as AMD, which would ultimately undermine the growth of the standard.

Look out for compatible devices from Promise and Lacie already announced, as well as other vendors in the near future

The Chief Digital Officer

New York City recently appointed Rachel Sterne as their Chief Digital Officer (CDO), tasked with helping the City improve how it communicates with residents using modern communication mediums and social media

An interesting appointment for sure, traditionally the social media banner has been trumpeted by the CMO and the marketing department, sometimes well, and sometimes exceedingly poorly as anybody who has been on Twitter for longer than a few years can attest to.  But does the appointment signify a shift in thinking about the way we approach and utilize social media? traditionally they have been seen as lucrative avenues for marketing, utilizing crowdsourcing and word of mouth to promote from within the target audiences trusted influencers.  More recently a public relations and customer service avenue has been tackled with the likes of Twitter and Facebook providing users an avenue to comment and receive feedback from the organizations they do business with, but with the social setting of such scrutiny the willingness of corporations to go down this path has been slow and riddled with troubles if not done properly with the right people at the helm.

Utilizing social media for effective communication back to the masses is one of the next hurdles for social media to tackle, finally turning the technology into a truly duplexed conversation and not just a broadcast platform for the masses

Rachels appointment has raised some concerns, around her credentials, the position itself and what exactly it hopes to achieve, but I for one am interested to see the outcome of her tenure and what achievements and changes lie ahead for New York City, and their new CDO

Another day, another blog

Those of you that have known me for a while will know that this is not my first foray into blogging; As a matter of fact it’s not even my second or third.  Try as I might, finding the time to blog has been an ongoing challenge for me, and my dislike of documentation (don’t get me wrong, I love documentation, just not when I have to write it!) has not helped matters either

My new role as a Senior Solutions Architect began a few months back and as part of my role I will be required to write blog posts each month, albeit a little toned down from my normal audience, to be delivered on our corporate blog.  I figure I might as well write the normal detailed and complete blogs I am used to writing and have them cut the bits they don’t want out, this way I can serve my readers, as well as meet a corporate objective.  Who knows, perhaps they will embrace the deep technical dives I hope to deliver over time

Talking with colleagues the subject of a podcast or video podcast has also been revived, feeling it is a better way for some of us to deliver the deep technical content we want to deliver without requiring us to pick up minors in journalism to do so

I look forward to actually delivering on my blog promise to myself this year, it can only serve to help me and my career, and if everything goes the way it should, my readers as well.